While the “Twitter Files” exposed to the world the government’s collusion with the social media platform to suppress public posts and censor the voices of anyone who dared to deviate from the government’s approved narrative on any number of issues, journalist David Zweig claims the “far more alarming” revelation is the attempt by the Biden White House to police what is said on “a private speech platform.”
According to Zweig, “The Biden White House pressured Meta to moderate ‘vaccine-skeptical’ content on WhatsApp.”
“This is fundamentally different from social media,” the writer stated on Twitter, “since WhatsApp is used for private communication.”
The Biden White House pressured Meta to moderate "vaccine-skeptical" content on WhatsApp
This is fundamentally different from social media, since WhatsApp is used for private communication
My report, based on legal documents obtained through discovery https://t.co/yYXZQLCT00
— David Zweig (@davidzweig) March 24, 2023
In his Substack report, which he “based on legal documents obtained through discovery,” Zweig states that “communications between the White House and Meta” began flying “almost immediately after Biden took office.”
“Of specific concern was vaccine hesitancy and how Meta would combat this across its multiple platforms, including Facebook and Instagram,” Zweig explains. “But amid the copious correspondence that I reviewed about those platforms, something jumped out at me: repeated queries about another Meta property, WhatsApp, a service designed for private messaging.”
Questioning Meta executives about what actions could be taken on a service that people use specifically for private communications is a striking departure from other efforts.
In multiple emails, as early as March 2021, Rob Flaherty, the Biden White House’s Director of Digital Strategy, pressed Meta executives to tell him what interventions the company had taken on WhatsApp.
Flaherty wanted to know what they were doing to reduce harm on the messaging app. Seemingly dissatisfied with earlier explanations, on March 22, 2021, he wrote, “If you can’t see the message, I’m genuinely curious—how do you know what kinds of messages you’ve cut down on?”
Referred to as “Andy” in the email, Andrew Slavitt, at the time the White House Senior Advisor on the Covid Response, was also on the email chain. Getting Meta to moderate its content was enough of a priority for Slavitt and Flaherty that Slavitt was willing to get on the phone with a Meta executive a “couple of times per week” if necessary.
The structure of WhatsApp made targeting specific information for suppression or censorship nearly impossible, Zweig says, so would-be moderators focused on being able to “push” info to users.
“The service partnered with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and more than 100 governments and health ministries to send Covid-19 updates and vaccine-related messages to users,” according to Zweig. “The company created initiatives such as a WhatsApp chat bot in Spanish to aid in making local vaccination appointments.”
The author details an exchange between Meta and Flaherty, who understood WhatsApp’s limitations but still wanted to explore its potential to curb so-called misinformation.
Meta explained to Flaherty that the company reduced forwarded messages to lower WhatsApp virality and “banned accounts that engaged in mass marketing and scams, including those related to Covid-19 misinformation.”
Additionally, “they tracked engagement through proactive work such as WhatsApp’s connection with governments and nonprofits sending 3 billion Covid-19 messages through the service,” Zweig reports.
“The exchanges about WhatsApp are arresting not because of what Meta ultimately did or did not do on the platform—since the company’s options for intervention appear to be limited—but because efforts to moderate content on a private messaging service was a continued interest for a White House official at all,” he writes.
“Fortunately,” he concludes, “targeted censorship on a private messaging app is still out of government reach.”
Online, the fact that such an affront to free speech was even attempted has outraged Twitter users.
“This is so, so far over the censorship line, I am not even sure what to compare it to,” tweeted one user. “The Biden administration literally may be one of the most pro-censorship administration’s in modern history.”
This is so, so far over the censorship line, I am not even sure what to compare it to.
The Biden administration literally may be one of the most pro-censorship administration's in modern history. https://t.co/jRnEr4Sj8o
— Pradheep J. Shanker (@Neoavatara) March 24, 2023
The people screaming in all directions that others are a threat to democracy are proving to be the actual threat.
— Adam Davis (@AdamDavisNYC) March 24, 2023
Sounds like they wanted a back door to essentially wire tape conversations that were represented as being completely private one-to-one or one-to- few channels, without any sort of due process. An egregious use of power and should be prosecuted as such.
— James Wilkinson (@NitroMH) March 24, 2023
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